The NHL landscape Fletcher will navigate is vastly different from the one his father saw

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 22, 2009 - 11:43 PM

Cliff Fletcher was asked about paying for a son to go through Harvard and then winding up with someone wanting nothing more than to hang around the game of hockey.

"I'm not sure how that happened, but now that he's the manager of an NHL team, maybe he can start repaying me,'' Cliff said.

Chuck Fletcher, 42, was announced as the second general manager for the Wild on Friday afternoon. Earlier, his father was on the phone from the Phoenix area, where he now works some special assignments for Brian Burke, the new boss of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cliff grew up in Montreal and went to work in 1956 at age 21 as a part-time scout for the Canadiens. "I can assure you that salaries have improved slightly in the NHL,'' Cliff said. "When I started with Montreal, I was getting $200 a year and a Canadiens jacket.''

Cliff scouted and managed a junior team and, in 1972, at age 36, he received a chance to be an NHL manager -- with the expansion Atlanta Flames. The team moved to Calgary and, in 1989, Cliff's Flames defeated his hometown Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup.

"Chuck grew up like kids do in Minnesota -- playing hockey right up the ladder,'' Cliff said. "The only difference between him and the kids he was playing with was that he was part of a family in pro sports.

"He was very well aware of what goes on in pro sports. He was exposed to the whole picture. He saw a father coming home when things are going good, and coming home when things aren't so good.

"It wasn't intentional, but that's probably good preparation for someone in his type of situation.''

Chuck went off to Harvard and graduated in 1990. Cliff left Calgary in 1991 to become the CEO, president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Cliff's assistant, Doug Risebrough, replaced him as Calgary's GM.

Risebrough was fired out of nowhere last month by Wild owner Craig Leipold, and Chuck Fletcher became the replacement on Friday. Cliff was asked if he found Risebrough's dismissal to be a surprise.

"I think in the world of professional sports right now, very little can surprise you,'' Cliff said. "Doug had a good nine-year run up there. That's much better than most in the NHL.

"The pressures to produce are much greater than when I first was an assistant GM in St. Louis in the late '60s. There were 12 teams and eight made the playoffs.

"Now, there are 30 teams, 14 teams miss the playoffs, and another eight are out in the first round. That's 22 teams with owners that aren't happy.''

Chuck spent three years in marketing and as a sports agent after Harvard, then landed in the front office of the Florida Panthers. Cliff left the Maple Leafs and retired to Florida in 1997 at age 62.

Hockey guys don't retire at 62. He was back in February 2001 as vice president for hockey operations with the Phoenix Coyotes. He was fired in April 2007, then served a stretch as Toronto's GM before Burke was hired last November.

Cliff's now 73, and it's his son with the pressure of being the manager in a league where a minimum of 22 owners are mad at season's end.

"Chuck listens and weighs everything before he responds,'' Cliff said. "That bodes well for him in the modern NHL, where knowing how to run a salary cap is as important as knowing your talent level.''

So, how does the kid take the up-and-down of an individual game -- calmly or like Ron Caron?

Cliff and Caron worked together in Montreal organization. Caron became the St. Louis general manager. Observing him in the Met Center press box, turning red and raging toward the officials for three periods, was the best-ever reason to cover a North Stars game.

Cliff laughed and said: "I don't think there are any other Ronnie Carons. Chuck suffers quietly through times that aren't as good as they should be. He isn't vocal, but his stomach is churning.''

Chuck comes from Pittsburgh -- a team with a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. It was suggested to his father that all the first-time manager needs to be an instant success would be for a Sidney Crosby to land in his lap.

"That sure helps,'' Dad said.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close